Wednesday 22 November 2017

EU postpones latest round of Turkish membership talks over protester crackdown

Adrian Croft and Justyna Pawlak

THE EU has rebuked Turkey for its crackdown on anti-government protesters by postponing a new round of membership talks for at least four months, but said its path to the EU remained open.

The EU had planned to open a new chapter, or policy area, in talks with Turkey on Wednesday, reviving the Turkish membership bid that has been virtually frozen for three years.


But Germany, backed by several other states, blocked the plan, believing it would send the wrong signal so soon after police cracked down on protesters in Turkish cities.


EU governments on Tuesday backed a German-inspired proposal, agreeing to open the new chapter but delaying the formal launch of the talks until after an Oct. 9 report by the European Commission on reforms and human rights in Turkey.


EU governments will meet again after the report comes out to set a date for talks on the new chapter.


Delays in Turkey's EU entry discussions fan doubts about whether Turkey, a largely Muslim country of 76 million people, will ever be admitted to the European club.


Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin had been in contact with Ankara to find an acceptable solution.


"Among all the understandable reactions (to the protests), we feel we cannot ignore that we have long-term strategic interests. We have to weigh that," he told reporters.


Turkey had promised a "strong reaction" to any EU decision to cancel the opening of the new chapter, but it toned down its criticism on Tuesday.


"What is important is the confirmation of the opening of the chapter with an irrevocable decision," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara. "An obstacle in Turkey's relations with the EU has been overcome."


The delay is helpful to German Chancellor Angela Merkel because it pushes back the talks until after the elections in Germany in September. Merkel's conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership.


Protests swept Turkish cities after police used teargas and water cannon to disperse a demonstration against redevelopment of an Istanbul square. Two weeks of clashes with police have left four people dead, including a policeman, and about 7,500 injured.


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